The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 3, June 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Who Are You and What Do Want?
Fan Mail
F.I.D.O.: Ludovic Pirani
Geronimo's Travels
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part I
How We Met Tom
Dog Yard Tips
Setting a New Standard
In the News
Behavior Notebook: Qiniliq and Sunny
IMHO: Unnecessary Roughness

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

PostScript is published intermittently as material becomes available. Online access is free at:  PostScript welcomes your letters, stories, comments and The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

Contents of The Fan Hitch Website and its publications  are protected by international copyright laws. No photo, drawing or text may be reproduced in any form without written consent. Webmasters please note: written consent is necessary before linking this site to yours! Please forward requests to Sue Hamilton, 55 Town Line Rd., Harwinton, Connecticut  06791, USA or
Our thanks to Beau Riffenburgh, Editor, for granting  permission to reprint the following article (in two parts) which was first published in The Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 56.

The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs:Part I


One of the logical reasons for exploration is to collect the maximum of information in a specified time; therefore planning should be based on an appreciation of the pregnable gaps in as many fields of science as possible. Present Antarctic exploration is neglecting the biological sciences and in particular those of an experimental nature. Figures published1 for the contingents from the British Commonwealth, France and Norway at present in Antarctica include twenty-three physicists, thirteen geologists of different varieties and only two biologists. This neglect probably arises from a too rigid conception that field biology is concerned with classification and with natural history. Antarctica, however, offers great possibilities, and even certain advantages, for much biological work, and in particular  its simplicity  helps  ecological thought and nutritional experimentation.

The author was one of twelve men of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (F.I.D.S.) stationed at Hope Bay in 1954 and 1955 as a "dog physiologist"2.  This paper emphasizes that sledge dogs offer unusual  opportunities for biological investigation in a variety of fields.

The origin of F.I.D.S. dogs
There have been three introductions of Huskies into the Falkland Islands Dependencies. Two shipments from Labrador arrived at the beginning of I9454 and 19465.  In 1945 about forty dogs came from the coast south of Hopedale and in 1946 another forty from north of this settlement. These animals  were not the best in the area, but rather the small and unwanted beasts. 

In 1954, twenty-one dogs were shipped south; eleven of these had been selected as the best of the British North Greenland Expedition, 1952-54,  pack; four more were their progeny; three dogs came from the Northwest Territories of Canada and three from Britain. The last trio were out of a Husky of Labrador parentage and the sire of one pup, although born in Labrador, had won fame in Graham Land as leader to V. E. Fuchs6

The canine population of the Falkland Islands Dependencies is divided between the stations and has fluctuated in number between forty and 200. Dogs are frequently moved from station to station and must be considered as one and not separate breeding units. The population was isolated for 9 years, from the beginning of 1946 to the end of 1954, and during that time certain changes took place.

The dogs at Hope Bay in 1955
The material for this article comes from the dogs at Hope Bay in 1954 and 1955, and particularly in the latter year. There were then an average of seventy-five dogs, with a maximum of ninety-seven. During the year sixteen pups were reared, and another fifteen put down. Fourteen adult dogs were killed, thirteen of which were shot as they were unfit for sledging. (Four of these were 9 years old and too stiff and slow, six were of bad physique, small, stout and probably rachitic, one was blind, one had been permanently lamed in her youth, and one badly mauled in a fight and was dying. The fourteenth death was in a storm when a meteorological tower collapsed.)

The dogs can be classified by age and by origin. On 1 December 1955 the ages of the seventy-two dogs were:

Age in years Males Females
0-1 11 5
1-2 21 4
2-3 6 1
3-4 3 2
4-5 3 2
5-6 7 2
6-7 1 1
7-8 1 0
8-9 1 0
9-10 1 0
Totals 55 17
The average age was 2 years 9 months. 

The origins and weights of the adult dogs were:
44 dogs of F.I.D.S. stock, Labrador origin
Average weight of males  96 lb.

12 dogs from the British North Greenland Expedition
Average weight of males  80 lb.

2 dogs from Canada
Weight of male  85lb.

1 dog of F.I.D.S. ancestry, but born in Britain
Weight of male 101 lb.

The females were from 15 to 20 lb. lighter.

(The discrepancy in numbers is because 13 pups of mixed ancestry are not included, and 3 Greenland dogs, 1 Canadian and 2 from Britain were either dead or at other stations.)

Records of the F.I.D.S. dogs are kept on "Dog-cards". Each card has a picture of the dog and the following information: number, name, sex, date of birth, other dogs in the litter, sire, dam, medical history, notes on character, details of journeys and mileage, progeny, and movements from station to station. With the exception of "character" all the information is factual and therefore liable to little personal bias.

Changes in the F.I.D.S. dogs
Some three successive generations of dogs have been bred in the Antarctic and certain physical changes have taken place. These can be assessed from the written records and by comparing the "native" stock at Hope Bay with the Greenland and Canadian introductions.

The weight of northern Huskies is usually  recorded as about 80 lb.7,8, and this was the average weight of the Greenland introductions. The thirty-nine adult dogs at Base E on 17 January 1950 averaged only 74 lb. with 87 lb. as the maximum.9 However, dogs now bred in the Falkland Islands  Dependencies average at least 95 lb. and the top weight recorded by the author was 132 lb.

The dogs from Greenland were as high at the shoulder as the "native" stock, both averaging 23 in., but the introductions had less bone and were thinner; average shoulder widths were 9 in. compared with 11 in. The Greenland dogs were also shorter, averaging 53 in. from nose to tail; compared with 60 in. The obvious physical changes during 9 years of closed breeding were therefore increase in weight, length, girth and thickness of bone, but with no great change in height. There was also a gain in strength but a loss of speed, and the process can be regarded as similar to breeding cart-horses from a racing stable.

These changes were probably due to better pup care and management, but other possible reasons are regular feeding, controlled selection of larger sires, and the fact that the dogs may carry more fat as the Antarctic summers are colder than those in the north. It is relevant that the dogs of Greenland origin now in Spitsbergen are reported to be as heavy as those at Hope Bay.10

Care at base station
At Hope Bay all dogs were kept spanned with the exception of young pups, breeding bitches and dogs under veterinary care. Apart from possible psychological effects, the only notable trouble with the span system was chafing of the necks by the collars. The spans  were of wire rope with individual chains for each dog.11 These 6-ft. long chains  were spaced so that no dog could reach his neighbours. Rations were approximately 7 lb. of seal on alternate days, most of which was meat and blubber; heads, livers and kidneys were fed and sometimes hearts and lungs. About 230 seals, most of which were Crabeater Seals (Lobodon carcinophaga), were used in 1955.

Some authorities have condemned the feeding of offal on account of parasites. In the seals at Hope Bay the most obvious parasites were Nematodes, particularly in the stomachs of Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes weddelli). However, the actual transference of seal parasites to dogs has not been demonstrated. Most parasites are highly specialized and only infect particular geographical neighbours. In the Antarctic there are normally no terrestrial mammals, and the suggestion that the parasites from the southern seals infect the introduced population of dogs is of remarkable interest, and requires investigation. 

The health of the dogs at base was in general excellent. The conditions that were treated included:

Abcesses 4 Infected paws 2
Castrations Intersusception 1
Cataract  1 Lacerations 1
Chafed necks multiple Palatal ulcers  11
Infected lacerations 2 Prolapsed recta 3

Sledging methods
Sledging techniques used by F.I.D.S. have been well described by Adie11 and by Bingham.12 Today, however, whips are rarely carried and drivers depend on the effect of verbal commands on the leading dogs. There are two aspects of leading: the dogs must go forward steadily and in a straight line, and secondly they must know, and respond to, the commands to change direction. The actual words used on F.I.D.S. have been standardized.11 To turn left is lrr-r-re, to turn right Auk. Croft7 gives the Eskimo words as Ille for right and Yuk for left, i.e. there has been a transposition of these words when they were anglicized.

The aim in 1955  was to have teams of nearly equal strength and not to concentrate on certain crack teams. Thus no team, except the author's, was associated with one person but could be allocated to anybody for a particular journey.

The dogs were run in "centre-trace", with a leader followed by four pairs, and each team of nine included  one or two bitches.  In 1954 three teams were run all year and a fourth formed in the spring. During the summer of 1954-55, two of the four teams were sent to another station, and the Canadian and Greenland dogs landed at Hope Bay. The dogs from Greenland had been trained, but we failed to make them pull together satisfactorily. Thus in March 1955, when only two teams were left at Hope Bay, the dogs were reorganized to form four teams of roughly equal strength. Two old dogs were withdrawn from the original teams and pups  put in their places; the Greenland dogs were drafted into three of the four teams. In August a fifth team emerged after another regrouping, and the process was repeated in December. Thus by removing trained dogs to form the nuclei for new teams, and replacing them with pups, the number of teams was increased from two to six. We found this easier and more satisfactory than trying to force nine pups to run together.

The teams were strong but some leaders were poor and inexperienced. This was a result of the many young dogs, and of the increase in number of teams. Routine was so complex that no training runs were possible, and in fact all the training was done while on journeys. One dog had been in harness only half an hour before starting on a 360 mile journey. 

Sledging took place throughout the year, although distances were restricted in summer and autumn by lack of sea ice.  During these seasons the dogs were used to haul stores and seals from the beach to the hut. The longest journey in 1955 was 890 miles; there were three others over 200 miles and four more of over 100. The maximum mileage credited to a dog in the year was 1390. Most journeys averaged 10 miles a day, but in 1954 one journey of 110 miles averaged only 6, while another of 825 miles averaged 16 miles a day.

Sledges were 12 ft. "Nansen type" with "Tufnol" runners. A loaded sledge was assumed to weigh 1100 lb., but on two occasions the load itself was well over 1300 lb. A few experiments were done with runners of Polytetrafluorethylene.13 No difference was found between the coefficient of sliding friction of runners covered with this plastic and of new ones of "Tufnol " at 0° C. After much use, say 3000 miles, the drag of "Tufnol" runners increased by approximately 30 per cent.

Life-history and training
There were four stages in the life of the dogs at Hope Bay.  First, infancy.  Birth was in a large indoor kennel attached to the living hut. The dam was kept with her pups for 6 weeks and the pups first went outside at between 4 weeks old and 3 months. They then roamed free until spanned. During the second stage, from 6 to 10 months, the pups were tethered on the spans, fed seal every other day, and never worked. The third stage, working life, usually lasted 7 years (but Yap, an exceptional dog, was sledging until he was 10). This period can be divided into time at base and time on journeys. At base the dogs were fed every other day and worked perhaps once in 10 days in winter, more frequently in the summer. During journeys the dogs were fed daily and worked perhaps 8 days in 10. A good dog might spend nearly as much time travelling as at base, and cover 8000 miles during his working life. Finally, when 9 years old most dogs were retired and shot. There are records of sledge dogs living to 15 in Britain.

Thus after the first 6 months the dogs were tethered for the rest of their lives. They were dependent on man for all food and exercise, and the human control even extended to their sexual activity. The author believes such a relationship to be bad, and that the dogs suffered from boredom while on the spans  which may have weakened their "mental stamina".  Hediger14 suggests the same for animals in zoos.

In contrast with previous practice, we did little training of pups. They were put in harness at the back of a team and left there alone; often two pups of the same litter started sledging together and we tried to maintain such pairs.  Gradually  they learnt to pull and to understand the words of command. It seemed that the major part of their training came from watching and imitating older dogs.

Some dogs were run at 7 1/2 months; two pups of 9 months went well on a spring journey of 390 miles and two other pups of 15 months did the 890 miles journey. It is thought, however, that these pups  were too young and that dogs under 12 months old should  be limited to journeys shorter than 200 miles, and while under 2 years to journeys shorter than 500 miles.  It is the opinion of the author that F.I.D.S. dogs are in their prime when 5 years old.

…to be concluded.

1 The Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1955-58, and The International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 55, 1957, p. 356-61.
2 R. J. F. TAYLOR. The physiology of sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 55, 1957, p. 317-21.
3 S. P. YOUNG, and E. A. GOLDMAN. The wolves of North America. Washington, 1944.
4 J. M. WORDIE. The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1943-46. Polar Record, Vol. 4, No. 32, 1947, p. 372-84.
5 E. W. BINGHAM. The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1946-47. Polar Record,Vol. 5, No. 3, 1947, p. 27-39.
6 V. E. FUCHS. Exploration in British Antarctica. Geographical Journal, Vol. 117, No. 4, 1951, p. 399-421.
7 A. CROFT. West Greenland sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 2, No. 13, 1937, p. 68-81.
8 C. L. B. HUBBARD. Working dogs of the world. London, 1947. p. 175.
9 R. J. ADIE. The 1949-51 dog report from Base E (Stonington Island) of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. Unpublished. 
10 A. REECE. Sledge dogs of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition,1949-52, Polar Record, Vol. 7, No. 47, 1954, p 32-37.
11 R. J. ADIE. Sledge dogs of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1947-50. Polar Record, Vol. 6, No. 45, 1953, p. 631-41-.
12 E. W. BINGHAM. Sledging and sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 3, No. 21, 1941, p. 367--85.
13 F. P. BOWDEN. Friction on snow and ice. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 217, 1953, p. 462-78. 
14 H. HEDIGER. Wild animals in captivity. London, 1950, p. 158.
15 M. BURNS. The genetics of the dog. Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau, Slough, 1952, p. 12.
16 R. J. F. TAYLOR, A. N. WORDEN, and C. E. WATERHOUSE. The sledging rations of sledge dogs, British Journal of Nutrition (in the Press).
17 R. J. F. TAYLOR. The work output of sledge dogs. Journal of Physiology  (in the Press).
18 C. SWITHINBANK. Mechanical transport of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1949-52, Polar Record, Vol. 6, No. 46, 1953, p. 765-74.
19 The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1954-55, Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 54, 1956, p. 260-64.

Return to top of page